Group beaten, held without food before drop house bust

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Group had not been fed in 9 days
azfamily.com

UPDATE MARCH 9:

AVONDALE -- The following is a press release from the Department of Public Safety:

On March 7, 2009, detectives with the multi-agency Illegal Immigration Prevention & Apprehension Co-op Team (IIMPACT) served a search warrant on a suspected drop house at 2409 N. 107th Drive in Avondale. IIMPACT is comprised of personnel from the Arizona Department of Public Safety (DPS), the Phoenix Police Department, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Officers from these agencies located 23 people in the home and the investigation revealed that 18 of the 23 individuals were victims and the other 5 were suspected human smugglers, or "coyotes". All the victims were turned over to ICE. The 5 suspected human smugglers were arrested. Entry into the house was made by the DPS Special Operations Unit.

IIMPACT identified 17 of the victims as Mexican National and one was a Guatemalan National. All of the victims were male except for one female, a 22-year-old Mexican National. The investigation showed the victims had been recently smuggled into the country and were being extorted while being transported to different locations throughout the United States.

All of the victims had been physically abused by the "coyotes" to some extent with two of the victims, including the female, being transported to a local hospital for treatment. A 9mm Ruger semi-automatic handgun and two baseball bats were found at the residence and believed to have been used in the assaults and threats. This is the first case IIMPACT has worked in which threats of De-capitation were made by "coyotes" unless ransoms were paid by family members. Detectives located $1,900 in U.S. currency, an alien smuggling ledger and other items consistent with human smuggling activities which were seized.

Investigators believe an attempted sexual assault was committed against one of the male victims by the "coyotes". Additionally, the "coyotes" would only provide food to those victims whose families had paid ransoms. The victims who were allowed to eat were placed across the room from those who hadn't eaten, and made to eat in front of these starving victims. Some of the victims reported to have gone without food for five to six days.

Arrested: Hugo Bayala-Reyes, 29, Juan Carlos Briones-Castro, 22, Oscar Roberto Montellano-Mora, 22, Juan Carlos Sanchez-Tecezcale, 32, Victor Hugo Tevares-Enciso, 37.

Charges: One count (each) human smuggling, one count (each) theft by extortion, one count (each) kidnapping, one count (each) armed robbery, one count (each) attempted sexual assault. All five suspects are Mexican Nationals and were booked into the 4th Avenue Jail in Phoenix.

ORIGINAL REPORT:

AVONDALE - Officers from the Department of Public Safety are investigating a suspected drop house.

DPS tells 3TV a large group of undocumented immigrants were found inside a home near 107th Avenue and Thomas. Officers say five smugglers were in the home holding 18 people hostage.

The group of undocumented immigrants said they paid a fee to be brought into the country and then were held at the home against their will. They were reportedly beaten and told they had to come up with more money or they would be killed.

Luckily a family member of one of those victims tipped off law enforcement. They were able to find the home and save the 18 people being held inside. Two had to be taken to the hospital while the rest are cooperating with immigration officials.

Those held against their will say they had been locked inside a fortified room in the home without food for up to 9 days. Officers call their conditions appalling.

The investigation is reportedly just beginning. Officers are not sure how long this smuggling and extortion ring has been operating.

Neighbors were shocked as many of them thought the home was vacant.